By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 5/21/2018
Posted: 7/10/2008
Topics/Keywords: #Camping Page Views: 3217
My checklist for solo camping (or with a guest).
Camping checklist

What should be taken on a camping trip? What's essential, and what can be left out?

For my own convenience as much as anyone else's, in this post you will find a printable checklist of stuff I take when I intend to go out into the wilderness for an overnighter.

By the way, packing for a camping trip needn't be a nightmare if you pre-pack. By that I mean, when you come back from a trip, don't just throw your stuff into the garage. Make sure it's clean, organized, and ready to go. By "organized" I mean that related items should be grouped together, so that they can be easily loaded into your truck or even your backpack, if you are hiking your way in.

Shelter

These are the items you want to accommodate your basic needs for protection from the elements. Even if you prefer to sleep under the stars, it's smart to have a tent just in case it rains or even snows unexpectedly. There's a reason they call it wilderness…it can be wild out there, and the only way to tame it is to expect the unexpected.

Tent(s)

The kind of tent you use depends on whether you will be car or canoe camping (pitching your tent near your car or carting it in a canoe) or hiking with it some distance. Backpacker tents are lighter than "family" camping tents. Also, tents come designed for either three seasons or four (sturdier for winter camping). I use a Coleman Sundome 7' x 7' which erects easily because it uses hooks instead of sleeves for the poles.

When packing your tent, don't forget the fly, an extra piece that goes over the top in case of rain. You don't have to use it if the weather's clear, but keep it handy in case there's an unexpected change in the weather. Better to go out in the rain and put up the fly, than to lie in a soaking sleeping bag all night with rain falling through the overhead vents.

Ground cloth or tarp

This can be a matter of controversy. Many modern tents come with a built-in waterproof floor; so why bother with a ground cloth or tarp? The answer is, a tarp is a lot cheaper to replace than the whole tent if a sharp rock on the ground beneath tears a hole in your tent's floor. On the other hand, if you are backpacking, you may be willing to take your chances with the rocks in order to save the extra weight.

Stakes

Stakes are no longer required by most tents, as they were when I was in Boy Scouts. Modern tents hold their shape thanks to their fiberglass poles. Still, stakes can be useful simply to prevent your tent from blowing away in a strong wind. Again, backpackers who know the weight of their gear inside will keep the tent ground may be willing to sacrifice the weight. But at least bring them in the car, in case it turns out to be windier than expected. You don't want to return to camp from a day hike to discover your tent is now in a tree, or down in a canyon, or floating down a river (which actually once happened to me).

Shade Tarp, rope

If you will be spending a whole day in camp, especially if you are car camping, consider bringing a tarp you can tie between a couple of trees to provide shade.

Axe

You never know when you might need to cut something: A dead branch from a tree that's endangering your tent, for example. And the blunt end can be used as a hammer for your tent stakes.

Welcome mat

If you are car camping, placing some kind of mat at the entrance of your tent will let you wipe the grit off your feet before you get inside. Some people are more finicky than others. Grit on my feet used to drive me crazy but it doesn't any more. Still, any dirt that gets into the tent will, eventually, get cleaned out; and a mat can minimize this.

I personally would never carry this backpacking. But that's just me.

Dust pan/brush

I don't bother with this, because a two-man tent, empty, can easily be lifted over my head while still assembled and shaken, and the dirt just falls out. But they can be bought for a dollar, and some people like them.

I once knew a couple who went camping with a battery-operated vacuum cleaner. (They also brought a TV, but that's another issue.) As I could have warned them had they asked, the vacuum was useless because instead of sucking in dirt, it sucked in the flimsy floor of the tent. It was worth it for the entertainment value, but I don't recommend it.

Bedding

Bedding must be supplied on a person-by-person basis, obviously. And exactly how it's approached depends on the relationship of those persons.

Mattress, air pump, repair kit

Everyone has his or her priorities, and to me the mattress comes even before the sleeping bag.

If I am car or canoe camping, there's no argument: My big, comfortable, queen-sized air mattress is going. Car camping, my 12-volt inflating thing will quickly fill it. Canoe camping, I will use a foot-operating pump that takes a little longer, but so what.

Backpacking is a little trickier, because a good solid air mattress weighs more than Oprah between diets. In that case, depending on how far I am hiking, I may bring a cheap pool mattress to be blown up by mouth, or an actual foam backpackers pad, which is lightweight and surprisingly effective.

What's needed also depends, of course, on the surface you expect to be sleeping on. Dirt almost always included rocks. A lot of campers will hollow out a spot for their bodies in dirt. Grass often conceals rocks as well. Sand, if there's a beach, is best. You don't even need a mattress for sand, if you create that slight hollow for yourself.

Finally, if you bring an air mattress, bring a repair kit. The only thing worse than having your mattress deflate during the night, is to have to spend the rest of the night on it flat and wrinkly.

Sleeping bag, or sheets and blankets

Sleeping bags are, obviously, the traditional choice. You can zip up your own, or combine it with another one the same size and have a sleeping bag for two.

Or, you can seal yourself into a coffin and be just about as comfortable.

I always bring sleeping bags when camping…but I don't zip them at all, and use them as comfy blankets.

I think the main reason for sleeping bags being designed as they are, is so that straight guys can zip into them and feel they can sleep through the night without worrying that their tent mate will suddenly develop an irresistible urge to fondle their naughty bits.

Now, if you're backpacking, sleeping bags do have the advantage of being lightweight, designed to be rolled up and tied to the outside of your backpack, and dirt and water resistant (on the outside) so that they can still be used after spending a day on the outside of your pack.

Be aware that sleeping bags come "rated" for different climates. If you try to sleep in an alpine-rated bag on an 80° night, you will roast. On the other hand, a summer-weight bag will not keep you warm on a mountaintop. So you need to know the expected night temperatures for where you'll be camping, and bring an appropriate bag.

For car camping, I bring several and some comforters, too, so I can adjust as needed for the occasion.

I do not bother with sheets, having learned in the Navy that I don't need them. (Also, sheets seem to hang on to grit more tenaciously than comforters or sleeping bag interiors.)

Pillows

Some people don't need them, but I am not one of those. I must have a pillow, more usually two, or I will have a headache in the morning.

When backpacking, I settle for one and actually put it in my sleeping bag before rolling it up. That keeps it clean, dry, and handy.

When car camping, I use two, because weight is no issue.

Now, here's the trick: Buy yourself satin pillowcases for your camping pillows. Grit and dirt will not stick to it even if you are sleeping at the bottom of a sandpit. And there's an extra benefit: In the morning, you will not have bed-hair.

Personal Items (Ditty Bag)

Each person will want to bring personal items in what the Navy calls a "ditty bag". You can pick up a lightweight ditty bag from Wal-Mart or any camping store. Some of these come pre-packed with items such as camper's soap, shampoo, a razor and comb and so on. That's fine, but a plain bag you fill with items of your own choosing works just as well or better.

In your ditty bag you will want the following items.

Hand soap in a plastic case, or a plastic bottle of camp soap

Camp soap is biodegradable and therefore mild, suitable for washing your body, your hair, your dishes, or your windshield. It also works, and I recommend it. You can buy it at any sporting goods store or department.

If you are camping in an actual campground with a shower, then you can use any soap and/or shampoo you would use at home.

Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash

There are no special camping toothpastes. Please be VERY careful to pack out your used dental floss. Mouthwash is nice for car camping but might be a little heavy to bother with for backpacking.

And remember, if you forget your toothbrush, you can always do what our ancestors did for millions of years prior to the invention of the oral care industry, and chew on a fibrous green twig. (It will actually get your teeth cleaner than a brush and toothpaste, but don't tell Colgate I told you that!)

Deodorant

Note I did not say "antiperspirant". Antiperspirants all, without exception, are made with aluminum salts that are then absorbed into the skin, becoming a leading cause of Alzheimer's. It's no coincidence that Alzheimer's moved from being a rarity to a commonplace just 20 years after the introduction of antiperspirants on the market.

If you get hot while hiking, you should sweat. It's your body's way of controlling its temperature.

Comb or brush or cap

For those with hair.

Razor, shaving crème

In case you are going to a job interview directly from your campsite. In which case you should also pack a business suit.

Feminine stuff

I don't know what these things are or what they're for, and I don't want to know. If you are a woman, you do. Don't forget to take what-all you need.

Personal medications

Take extra, just in case you get lost in the woods. Think how embarrassing it would be to die, not of exposure, but due to insulin shock or an asthma attack. You'd be the laughing stock of Heaven, and wind up in the News of the Weird here on earth. Trust me, it's not worth it.

Personal Items (Clothing)

Rule number one: Don't overpack. Even when car camping, it's not necessary to bring something for every possible condition. Just remember two things: You can wear an outfit more than once. And layers are more efficient than separate outfits.

The following list is good for a one or two day camp/hike.

Hiking Shoes, socks

NEVER bring shoes you haven't worn before. Break shoes in by wearing them for an hour or two a day before going on a real hike with them. And make sure they fit. Even "soft" shoes need time to adjust to your feet (and vice versa).

Personally, I prefer good walking shoes or cross-trainers to actual hiking shoes. But that's me. Some prefer the ankle support hiking shoes provide.

I break my own rule when it comes to socks. I bring several clean pair; I don't like to put on damp, dirty, socks.

Underwear

Unless you "go commando" as I do, you'll want to bring enough underwear for the time you expect to be gone, plus one—just in case you do have that close encounter with a bear.

Tivas or other hiking sandals

The point is, you can wear Tivas as sandals, yet their sturdy and supportive enough for you to do light hiking in. They can also get wet without harm, and are far superior to "river shoes" for creek or river walking and wading.

Blue jeans, shorts, belt

One pair full-length jeans for hiking through brush or for when it gets too cold for shorts. Shorts for open country hiking or hanging around camp. If you are camping in a cool climate, you can bring two pairs of jeans and no shorts.

Two microfiber polyester T-shirts

These are those workout shirts that wick perspiration away from the body and dry quickly. When cotton gets wet, it stays wet. If you're wearing it at the time, it sucks the heat right out of you. Microfiber polyester (an example is the Nike Dri-Fit) doesn't have that problem. You can sweat into it on Saturday and wear it dry on Sunday. It's also a lot lighter than cotton. And if one doesn't keep you warm, try two.

Sweatshirt, waterproof windbreaker

That said, if the climate is at all likely to chill, you'll want to be able to slip into a sweatshirt or even a jacket. Windbreakers keep you warm and double as rain jackets if need be.

Cap

Or fedora, if you're Indiana Jones. Caps help keep the sun out of your eyes, often more effectively than sunglasses. And if you're really hot, you can use your cap to scoop water out of a stream and pour it on yourself.

Sleep Clothes

If I am camping with someone who really doesn't want to see me naked, I'll wear some satiny workout shorts and a tank top to bed. But it's under protest. And if you sleep in your sleeping bag with it zipped, it's going to be even harder to wriggle into it or out of it with clothes on. But, hey, it's your life.

Swimwear, towel

I feel the same way about swimming as I do sleeping, but if your going to swim in a place that's not clothing optional, better to wear a bathing suit than cause a riot.

Personal Items (Handy Stuff)

This is a list of stuff each person should bring, for his or her own convenience and comfort. It does not include clothing or the toiletries listed above.

Chapstick or Vaseline

If your lips are dry, that's a sign of dehydration. Start drinking more water immediately. But the dry lips are still gonna annoy you and get worse, so Chapstick can help. Personally, though I prefer Vaseline. It's cheaper, coats thicker, and seems to me to work better.

Vaseline does make a special dispenser for use on lips, the same size and general shape as a Chapstick.

Folding camp chair

They're selling them for about $9 at Wal-Mart. A little heavy for a backpacking trip, though.

For backpacking, you can instead bring a very lightweight stool. Check your sporting goods store for one you like.

Camera, extra batteries, memory chip

Or film, if you're still doing that.

Small flashlight, extra batteries
Whistle

In case you can't find your way to camp after sneaking away to unload the gas from those beans, the tradition is to blow three short blasts, repeating at intervals until you hear someone whistling back. Then you follow the sound back to camp.

Camelback

These are small insulated backpacks that fill with water (or coffee or strawberry daiquiris). I have no idea how we went hiking without them.

Bug Repellent

If bugs bother you, bother them back. Just remember, bugs in the woods tend to be tougher than wimpy, urban bugs. Next time you're in Canada, bring back a few cans of Muskol. It contains something called "deet" which apparently is to bugs what good taste is to Jerry Springer. Otherwise, you'll have to settle for Deep Woods Off which isn't as good but works pretty well.

Hiker's compass or GPS, local topographical map

A hiker's compass is made to align with a topo map so you can walk in a straight line to wherever you want to be. Even if you have a hiker's GPS (I don't, but I want one!) it's a good idea to have a paper topo map with you, just so you can get a bigger overview of the terrain. You can buy them from the USGS, or print them from Trails.com.

Sunglasses
Tissues or handkerchief

I know, most people seem to prefer tissues. But remember you need to pack out what you bring in. Handkerchiefs sort of lend themselves to that automatically. Besides, Miss Manners maintains that, to be considered a gentleman, every man must carry a handkerchief.

Though she may have had one that hasn't been used, in mind.

Pocket knife

It doesn't have to be a $180 Swiss Army Knife; a $1 pocket knife will do as well. (But if it is a Swiss Army Knife, you will never regret having it. Unless you forget to pack it in your checked luggage before going through airport security.)

Work or gardening gloves

Handy when it's time to drag firewood to camp.

Camp Life

These items can be shared but don't come under the category of "cookware".

First Aid Kit

Make sure it's stocked with Advil for headache, Bonine for motion sickness on the ride to the trail head or nausea, hydrocortisone cream for bug bites, burns or minor cuts, Band-Aids, and sun block to prevent over-exposure. (Be careful not to overuse sun block; you need some ultra-violet light from the sun to enable your body to synthesize vitamin D as well as over 90 other cancer-fighting compounds. Let yourself develop a tan. Apply sunblock only as needed to avoid burning.)

Toilet paper

Even established campgrounds with flush or pit toilets often run out, so a roll is essential to your supplies. I recommend you get special camping toilet paper from the sporting goods department. It costs more, but it's biodegradable and that will help save your ass in the long run.

Duct tape, bungee cords

Good for almost everything. See below for one example.

Shovel or human waste disposal bag

In general, a backpacker's toilet is a hole in the ground. You'll have to make that hole, hence the shovel. After you've put stuff in the hole, use the shovel to replace a little of the dirt on top of your deposit. Before you leave, fill the hole in.

However, some places (like Grand Canyon) require you to leave no trace. In that case, you'll want to bring an extra-sturdy, double-lined trash bag to poop in—either for the group, or one per person, depending on the campers' ick tolerance factor. After going, roll the bottom of the back a little to cover the poop. When it's time to leave, roll the rest of the way (so the poop is deep within the bag). and duct tape shut.

Water dispenser/filter

Depending on where you're going, obtaining fresh, potable water may be an issue. You can buy lightweight water filters that can take any sewage and pass only the purest water into your cup. Alternatively, you can buy "water purification tablets" that will turn sewage into something safe to drink that tastes worse than sewage. In fact, they can turn fresh water into something that tastes worse than sewage.

I recommend the filter.

Of course, for car camping, a flat of bottled water bottles from Wal-Mart works even better.

Lantern

I include this reluctantly. Personally, I like to enjoy the dark—the stars, especially, but even just the dark. However, if you'd rather be able to see what you're doing, especially while trying to cook, a lantern makes sense. You can get lanterns that run on gasoline (not recommended), propane (better) or batteries. Gasoline and propane lanterns use flimsy cloth "mantles" that have to be lit by match. Battery lanterns use small electric bulbs or even fluorescent tubes. Those are cool, and bright enough without being blinding.

Musical instruments, books, magazines, radio, etc.

Or you could just stay home.

There's a world around you to be listened to, watched, cherished. Why bring the latest antics of Britney Spears into it?

Now, that said, if you don't want to talk to your campmates around the campfire, a case can be made for playing a wooden flute or recorder or even a harmonica for a bit. Then you can all join in for a full-harmony rendition of "California Dreamin'" and "If I Had A Hammer". That's pretty much guaranteed to scare away the bears, for a few hours, at least.

Binoculars

Is that couple really doing what it looks like they are doing in the next valley? That's probably the main reason to bring binocs, but it's also fun to look at the craters of the Moon and the dust clouds of the Pleiades.

Rope, trash bags

Optional when car camping, essential when backpacking. You need to put anything that smells like food where the wilderness creatures can't get at it. I'm not just talking about bears. And I'm definitely not recommending you store your food in your tent!

If you're car camping, simply lock the stuff in your car—and don't forget to close the windows.

Notepad and pen, or cell phone

In case you find yourself caught in a freak blizzard, and weeks later no one has found you, you'll want to leave a message for your loved ones. You can either write it on the notepad, or (in most cell phones) leave a voice message.

The cell phone can also serve as watch, alarm clock, and at the least likely times you'll find a signal and be able to call out. One thing to remember: When there is no signal, the phone constantly tries to find one, which runs down the battery fairly quickly. So turn it off unless you want to use one of its services. (Most cell phones, even when "off", will ring when the alarm goes off.)

Camp Stove, propane

These come in many different forms, including a simple grill to go over a campfire. You can omit the need for one altogether on a short camping trip by simply bringing cold food to eat, like sandwiches or trail mix. (Yes, you can live a couple days on trail mix; I've done it. Just don't forget to drink extra water.)

Next up, for a backpacking trip, would be a single burner that attaches directly to a propane bottle. These work surprisingly well for one- or two-person camps. Just plan your meals to require no more than one burner.

Finally, for car camping, you can bring a two-burner propane stove and make nearly anything you'd make at home.

One caveat: Propane doesn't burn as hot as natural gas, so water takes longer to boil. Also, if you are at altitude, remember that water boils at a lower temperature than it does at sea level. You may have to adjust your recipes accordingly.

Water Jug

If you are car camping, there's nothing like having running water. Bungee your jug with a spigot to a tree and you've got it.

Cooler, ice (or dry ice)

For car camping, this is a given. (For backpacking, I suggest freeze-dried, just-add-water meals from your local camping store.) You can buy dry ice, which is colder than water ice, at your grocery store. The main reason to, is so you can have ice cream as a special and unexpected treat for desert. If you use water ice, take special care to make sure anything that doesn't do well submerged in water (like sandwiches or bananas) is well-sealed in freezer-strength Zip-Loc bags (or equivalent).

Matches or lighter

Unless you know how to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together, it's very embarrassing to forget the matches.

But if you do forget them—here are a few substitutes, most of which work only during the day:

  • Your car's cigarette lighter
  • A magnifying glass, or eyeglass lens, or a drop of water over a pinhole in a leaf, can concentrate sunlight enough to light tinder
Firewood

For car camping, it can be easier to bring firewood than try to find some dry deadwood—though perhaps less fun.

Paper plates, bowls, plastic tablewear

Paper is better than foam because you can burn it in the fire without impacting the environment. Don't burn plastic. Pack out what you bring in, and that's everything that can't burn cleanly.

Paper towels
Trash bags
Tongs, skewers or grill forks

"You dropped what in the fire?!"

Condiments (salt, pepper)

I include these here because they can be packed permanently with your camp gear, unlike perishable food like butter or bananas or even ketchup.

Preparations and Precautions

Road maps or GPS coordinates
Full tank of gas
Good spare tire
Any needed backcountry permits, campground reservations, etc.
Notify a friend where you plan to be, when you plan to return, and promise to call when you get back (and do call!)

Provide directions and possible alternative roads that you may take, cell phone numbers, vehicle description and license plate numbers, hand-held radio channel and codes that you will use, and provide local authority phone numbers (State Police, Game & Fish Commission, Sheriff Dept, etc.) for the county or area that you will be in.

Have fun! Because, that's the point.